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Volume 5, Number 10 -- March 12, 2008

AMD Says Barcelona Bug Is Fixed, Almost Ready to Ramp

Published: March 12, 2008

by Timothy Prickett Morgan

The executives at microprocessor maker Advanced Micro Devices have had to endure their share of grief in the past nine months. First, after boasting that its native quad-core "Barcelona" and "Budapest" Rev F Opteron processors would best quasi quad-core alternatives from rival Intel, the Barcelona Opterons, used in two-socket and four-socket machines, were delayed beyond their expected June launch, and when they debuted in September they came out at slower speeds than many expected. And then, in December, AMD said the Barcelonas had a bug in their cache.

Sometimes, being in the chip racket is no fun at all. Then again, when AMD did 64-bit memory extensions and dual-core chips well ahead of Intel several years ago, and gradually got the major server makers to adopt Opterons in their machinery, AMD was having a pretty good time. But, Intel is a tough competitor, and it wakes up and gets moving eventually, and the company's turnaround in the past two years has been nothing short of remarkable and, unfortunately for AMD, coincides with its own slippages and errors as it makes the transition from dual-core to quad-core chips.

But soon, according to Kevin Knox, vice president of AMD's worldwide commercial business (which means servers and workstations), Barcelona and Budapest, which we will know as the Opteron 1000s and the Athlon AM3, are getting back on track. "The bottom line is that the table lookahead buffer errata in the Barcelona chips is fixed in the B3 stepping," says Knox. "It is fixed in silicon and it does not require any BIOS workarounds. More importantly, we are ahead of schedule on the B3 stepping in terms of getting chips to OEM partners and channel partners." Knox says that AMD is ramping up the B3 tweak on Barcelona now using its 65 nanometer processes and will ship "tens of thousands" of parts to OEM and channel customers in late March, and AMD expects the ramp to go quickly enough to have vendors shipping products based on Barcelona in the early part of the second quarter--April, to be specific.

The Budapest quad-core variant of the tweaked Rev F designs, which goes into single-socket servers and workstations, will be coming out somewhere in mid-to-late Q2, according to Knox, and it will obviously also have the TLB errata, which was revealed by AMD back in December, fixed in silicon.

While the Barcelona and Budapest chips have been tweaked, AMD is not yet able to push the 65 nanometer processes used to make its chips any harder in terms of yields at higher clock speeds, and so the Barcelonas are still coming out running at 2 GHz and 2.3 GHz in the B3 stepping; the chips still have 2 MB of L3 cache as well. According to Knox, the current schedule is to get the low-voltage "Highly Efficient" Opteron HE variants of Barcelona out the door in the second quarter, running at 1.8 GHz and 1.9 GHz, and that the "Special Edition" Opteron SE variants, which clock higher at 2.4 GHz and 2.5 GHz (and burn a lot hotter than the 75-watts of the standard Opterons) are due "later this year." Knox says that the sweet spot in the market will be the standard Opteron parts, and AMD is not worried that SE parts are not readily available.

"We think we have the right parts at the right time," says Knox, "and we have a huge pipeline of deals for the B3s. The demand is coming from across the board--users, channel partners, and OEMs."

Incidentally, AMD has no plans to cut Barcelona back down to a dual-core chip so it can offer a higher clock speed to customers with jobs that like clocks, and Knox was non-committal about any speculation that a future octocore Opteron would be created quickly and easily by adopting the quasi packaging approach championed by IBM, Intel, and Hewlett-Packard. A quasi octocore chip would do a 45 nanometer shrink of Barcelona, which is in fact called "Shanghai," and then take two of these and put them into a single Opteron socket with a shared HyperTransport and memory bus. A native octocore would put eight real cores on a single piece of silicon, all running in a single socket. The quasi dual-core and quad-core Xeon processors are what have put Intel back on track with the OEMs and users in the server space. At any rate, the future octocore Opteron is called "Sandtiger," and you can read all about the Opteron roadmaps here.

Knox did say that the 45 nanometer process that AMD has created in conjunction with partner IBM is on track and that the Shanghai Opteron variants, which will have 6 MB of L3 cache, are on target for shipment later this year, despite the delays with Barcelona. Given the shrink from 65 nanometers to 45 nanometers, AMD should be able to push clock speeds well above 3 GHz and the tripling of L3 cache should have a big effect on performance.


RELATED STORIES

AMD Stalled by a Bug in Barcelona Opterons

Intel Announces First "Penryn" Xeon Processors

AMD Gets Aggressive About Watts with Quad-Core Barcelonas

Chief Marketeer at AMD Quits Before Barcelona Launch

AMD's Chip Roadmaps: Beyond Barcelona

Intel Cranks Out Two More Quads, AMD Sets Barcelona Date

AMD Gooses Dual-Core Opteron Speeds, Cuts Prices

Intel Sets Up 'Tigerton' Xeon MPs Against Future Opterons

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AMD: Native Quad Core Opteron Will Best Intel Quasi Quads

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AMD Unveils Rev F Opterons, Prepares for Quad Cores in Mid-2007



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